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NYTimes: Immigration Crackdown Also Snares Americans

Julia Preston of the NY times just wrote an excellent article on a known but often ignored phenomena: the illegal detention and deportation of U.S. citizens.

From the article:

In a spate of recent cases across the country, American citizens have been confined in local jails after federal immigration agents, acting on flawed information from Department of Homeland Security databases, instructed the police to hold them for investigation and possible deportation.

When the Times calls, ICE better answer, especially when the allegations are so serious. John Morton, the Director of ICE, duly responded to the criticism:

We don’t have the power to detain citizens,” Mr. Morton said in an interview on Tuesday. “We obviously take any allegation that someone is a citizen very seriously.”

Later this month, Mr. Morton said, the immigration agency will publish new forms for its detainers. The forms, in several languages, will require the police to notify suspects who are being held on federal immigration authority, he said. They will also provide a hot line where detainees can call the immigration agency directly.

How any reasonable person cannot laugh at Mr. Morton’s disingenuous response is a question we should all be asking. ICE is going to give detainees a “hotline” to call ICE directly? Seriously?

As an immigration attorney, the most frustrating type of cases are those that involve a detained client. Why? Because ICE often refuses to answer their phone and/or respond to repeated messages. For example, a client of mine was detained at the detention facility in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Over the four months that she was detained, I made hundreds of phone calls to the ICE office located at the facility. For literally weeks at a time, I received no response from the officer in charge of my client’s case. Over four months, I was only able to speak to the officer a total of three times.

There is no way that a detained individual would be adequately protected from wrongful detention with an ICE “hotline”. What should and must be done, if we are to believe the U.S. constitution means anything, is that the 6th amendment’s right to counsel be applied to those detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

If not, egregious constitutional violations such as the following will continue to happen:

One was Mr. Montejano, when a holiday shopping outing on Nov. 5 to a Los Angeles mall with his four children ended badly. After his young daughter begged for a $10 bottle of cologne, Mr. Montejano said, he inadvertently dropped it into a bag of things he had already bought. As he left the store, he was arrested.

With no prior criminal record, Mr. Montejano, 40, expected to post bond quickly at the Santa Monica police station on the misdemeanor charge and go home. He had his driver’s license and other legal identification, but because of an immigration detainer he was denied bail and held even after a criminal court judge canceled his fine and ordered the police to let him go.

Mr. Montejano was freed on Nov. 9 after American Civil Liberties Union lawyers sent Immigration and Customs Enforcement his United States passport and birth certificate.

“Just because I made one mistake,” Mr. Montejano said, “I don’t think they should have done all those things to me.”

He said he thought the police did not believe he was an American because of his appearance. “I look Mexican 100 percent,” he said.

Mr. Montejano had triggered a positive match in the Homeland Security Department databases, A.C.L.U. lawyers discovered, because immigration officials had failed once before to recognize his citizenship, mistakenly deporting him to Mexico in 1996. His records were not corrected.

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